This presidential “debate” was like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve been watching televised debates since they resumed in 1976 (The first presidential debate was in 1960, and Richard Nixon lost so badly to John F. Kennedy that he refused to debate in 1968 and 1972. There were also no debates in 1964). The debates over those 40 years were all very similar, overall, but yesterday’s was nothing like those.
Donald was belligerent, arrogant, self-promotional, untruthful, and narcissistic—he was his usual self, in other words. Hillary Clinton, in stark contrast, was restrained, on-point, coherent, used complete sentences that led into other complete sentences, and looked presidential. She won the debate, no question about that, and that was largely Donald’s own fault.
Watching the debate, and seeing Donald blather on and on and on while saying nothing about anything except how great he is (and even promoting one of his hotels!), and seeing how he interrupted nearly twice as many times as Hillary Clinton did, and how he constantly talked over her, I couldn't help think about how commonplace it was. There have been plenty of times I’ve seen a smart, accomplished, capable woman have to stand silently and watch as some ignorant man pontificates about things he knows absolutely nothing about, talking loudly over her if she dares to challenge his male authority. His performance would have been funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.
Still, Donald started out fairly strong. For the first roughly 20 minutes he kept on his talking point—well, as much as he can ever stay on point—about Hillary Clinton being an “insider” and a “politician”, clearly trying to frame himself as an “outsider” and as a “non-politician”. What was obvious to me is that he’d received a lot of coaching in advance of the debate, even though both he and his campaign had earlier denied he was prepping for the debate; it looked to me like they lied about that.
After that first 20 minutes, give or take, it was all downhill for Donald. His greatest hit against Hillary Clinton, though temporary, came when he repeated an old speech line about how he’d release his tax returns if she released the “30,000 deleted emails”. But that was his last highlight—in fact, he lost that point spectacularly by scoring an own-goal.
Hillary Clinton talked about Donald’s taxes, and both she and moderator Lester Holt fact-checked Donald’s lie that he can’t release his tax returns because he’s “being audited”. Hillary Clinton went on to question what Donald’s trying to hide, that perhaps he paid NO federal income tax. She pointed out what that meant, no money for troops, no money for veterans, no money for schools, no money for healthcare—it was one of her better hits because it personalised what Donald’s tax avoidance means. His smart-assed retort to the suggestion that he doesn’t pay his taxes? “That makes me smart!”, something he denied saying within an hour, despite the fact he, of course, DID say it and millions of people heard him say that him not paying any federal income tax makes him “smart”.
In the debate itself, Donald lied about many things he said. He again lied about his having opposed the Iraq War before it began, but this time—clearly having been coached on that question—he tried to spin his stated support for the war as an offhand, not serious remark, and whined, “no one ever calls Sean Hannity.” Yeah, well, that’s probably because a shill for Donald and the Republicans is probably not the most reliable character witness.
One of Donald’s lies was fact-checked in real-time by Twitter users. Hillary Clinton said, “Donald Trump thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese,” and Donald shot back, “I did not. I do not say that.” The Internet by retweeting the proof, the 2012 Tweet in which he said it, making it the most re-tweeted thing during the debate:
Then, comedian Alex Adelman added to the fun by sharing more of Donald’s climate change denial, something that was retweeted heavily, too:
His denial of what millions of Americans actually saw and heard in the debate is even more baffling. He was sniffling constantly throughout the debate (see: “Donald Trump’s sniffling distracts debate watchers”), something he has—bizarrely, but not surprisingly—now denied ever happened. Fortunately, he didn’t claim that tens of millions of people were stupid, or even that they misheard, no, he told Fox he had a “bad mic”—but apparently “good enough to hear breathing.” Uh, huh. Right. Personally, I liked the thousands of social media jibes this this one:
Many people are saying that @realDonaldTrump's #sniffles are the result of a cocaine problem. Many, many people. Credible sources. #Debates— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) September 27, 2016
The consensus in the reality-based world is overwhelming: Hillary Clinton won the debate. Hillary also came off far better than Donald did. That assessment came from all over the political spectrum. For example, Michael Reagan, son of Ronald Reagan, Tweeted: “She ended up looking and acting more Presidential....its the truth”, which led one of his followers to respond, “Michael are you watching the same debate? She's a robot with pre-planned answers. Holt is biased. Trump remained on point.” That sort of delusional view was expressed by many people all over rightwing media—though not usually in complete sentences with correctly spelled words and a lack of obscenities or trite offensive nicknames for Hillary Clinton (which is why I picked that response alone).
The fact is, partisans will see in the debate what they wanted to see, and the fact that Donald’s supporters tried to spin reality and make excuses and shift the blame for his failure isn’t surprising. But when we look at undecided and the snap polls taken after the debate, they all showed Hillary Clinton won—decisively. Naturally, Donald's fans will spin that, too, as rightwingers always do, attacking the legitimacy of polling itself—except for the ones with results they like, of course.
In the next few days we’ll see several opinion polls published, each trying to measure whether there was a bounce in support for Hillary Clinton. Polling guru Nate Silver noted that based on history, Clinton is likely to get a post-debate bump in the polls, however, if she doesn’t that could indicate that Donald could be very difficult to defeat.
My own bet is that Donald won’t show up for the remaining two debates, and he’ll use the words “rigged” and “biased” when he pulls out. If he does show up for the second debate and crashes and burns even almost as badly as he did in the first one, then he’s almost certain to chicken-out of the third debate.
So, in sum, Hillary Clinton did very well in the debate and Donald crashed and burned. For those of us who are rational people, that was very, very good news. However, it’s not over yet, and defeating Donald looks like it will a very difficult job. Fortunately, Donald is doing everything in his power to help our effort to defeat him.
“Journalists Are Calling Out Trump's Debate Lies” – Media Matters presents a long list of debunking Donald’s many lies.
“Trump launches harsh new fat attack on ex-Miss Universe” - Last night, Hillary Clinton raised the story of Alicia Machado as an example of Donald’s sexism and racism. AFP reports that today Donald doubled-down on his bigotry.
“Transcript: Here are words Trump just used to talk about 'the cyber'” – just TRY and work out what the hell he was talking about!